A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.
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23. THE PRIORY OF LANCASTER
The priory of Lancaster was founded by Roger of Poitou, in the reign of William Rufus, as a cell of the Benedictine Abbey of St. Martin at Sées in Normandy. Sées formed part of the inheritance of his mother, the notorious Countess Mabel, and its abbey, refounded in 1060 by his father, received liberal endowments in England from the house of Montgomery.
The chartulary of Sées recites three charters of Roger granting Lancaster church and other portions of his English possessions to the abbey; two of these are ascribed to 1094, the third is undated; (fn. 1) All three differ in some important respects. That without a date was the definitive charter of foundation, for it alone appears in the register of the priory. (fn. 2) The others may have been granted by Roger while in Normandy in 1094, (fn. 3) but the names of its witnesses show that this was drawn up in the north of England, probably at Lancaster. It cannot be much later in date.
The wide range of Roger's endowments bespeaks the poverty of his northern lands. Included among them were part of the township of Lancaster, the two adjoining manors (mansiones) of Aldcliffe and Newton, (fn. 4) the vill of Poultonle-Fylde, and the tithes of the parishes of Preston and Bolton-le-Sands and of nineteen townships, all with one exception within the bounds of the later county of Lancaster and comprising practically the whole of Count Roger's demesne lands in that district. A tenth of his hunting, pannage, and fishing was added, together with every third cast of the seine belonging to the church of Lancaster.
The church itself was granted; also the churches of Bolton-le-Sands, Heysham, Melling, Poulton, Preston, Kirkham, Croston, Childwall, and a moiety of Eccleston, and three in the Midlands, Cotgrave, Cropwell (both in Notting hamshire), and 'Wikelay.' (fn. 5) In the case of Bolton, Heysham, Preston, and Poulton considerable areas of church land were conveyed with the advowsons.
Most of these churches were gradually alienated before the fourteenth century. Those in the Midlands were soon lost, either by amicable arrangement or by crown resumption on Count Roger's forfeiture in 1102. It has been suggested that with them Henry I resumed Preston, Childwall, and perhaps Poulton. (fn. 6) This, however, seems open to doubt. The circumstances under which another of its advowsons was lost to the priory in the reign of Stephen are fortunately known. Among Roger's gifts were Kirkham church and the tithes of Walton-on-the-Hill. But in a charter issued in 1093 or shortly afterwards his sheriff Godfrey, with his consent, conveyed the churches of Walton and Kirkham to the abbey of St. Peter at Shrewsbury, the chief English foundation of the count's father, Roger of Montgomery. (fn. 7) The only probable explanation of the double grant is that between the date of this charter and that of Count Roger's definitive foundation of the priory he had taken into his own hands again some estates held of him by Godfrey when the Shrewsbury charter was drawn up. Nevertheless the latter was confirmed by Archbishop Thomas of York and by Henry I. (fn. 8) Litigation between the two houses inevitably followed and the dispute being submitted to the arbitration of Bernard, bishop of St. Davids, the Lancashire monks had to resign Kirkham church and the Walton tithes to the abbot of Shrewsbury, who in return gave them a plough-land at Bispham and the tithe of the adjoining township of Layton with Warbreck. (fn. 9) A charter issued by David king of Scots as lord of the honour of Lancaster, which protects Shrewsbury's rights in the church of Kirkham, is extant and probably followed the composition arranged by Bernard. (fn. 10) It seems not unlikely that these events took place in 1141 during the short-lived triumph of the Empress Maud, of whom Bishop Bernard was an ardent partisan. (fn. 11) Fear lest the decision might be invalidated on political grounds may have dictated the further reference of the dispute by Shrewsbury Abbey to Archbishop William Fitzherbert of York, who in a synod, apparently held in 1143, gave judgement in its favour. (fn. 12) There were other outstanding questions between Sées and Shrewsbury, and in a general settlement effected four years later the former, while confirming the resignation of Kirkham, restored the plough-land at Bispham and the tithes of Layton and Warbreck, receiving in return the chapel of Bispham and certain disputed property in Shropshire. (fn. 13) Roger's gifts to the Norman abbey were confirmed by Pope Innocent II on 3 May, 1139, (fn. 14) by Ranulf Gernons, earl of Chester, probably in 1149, (fn. 15) and by John, count of Mortain when lord of the honour of Lancaster, between 1189 and 1193. (fn. 16) During this period also John granted to the priory the privileges of having all suits touching its lands tried before himself or his chief justiciar, and of taking their tithes from his demesne lands whether they were in his own hands or not. (fn. 17)
Meanwhile the advowson of Preston had passed away from the priory. In 1196 Theobald Walter claimed the advowsons of Preston and Poulton, seemingly on the strength of the grant he had received two years before of the lordship of Amounderness. The matter was settled in the king's court; Theobald quitclaimed his rights in the advowson of Poulton with Bispham chapel, and the abbot and convent of Sées did the same as regards the advowson of Preston, but secured an annual pension of 10 marks from that church. (fn. 18) This was probably as much as they could have derived from it in any case so long as it remained unappropriated. A little later the advowson of Melling church was transferred to Roger de Montbegon of Hornby, (fn. 19) who resigned all claim upon its chapel at Gressingham, which Pope Celestine III had appropriated to the priory. (fn. 20) Gressingham thenceforward became an isolated chapelry of Lancaster.
It was perhaps in 1232 that the advowson of Childwall church passed to the Grelleys, in whose barony of Manchester the manor had long been included. Thomas Grelley in that year obtained an assize of darrein presentment against the prior, but this may have been a collusive suit. (fn. 21) The annexation of the priory's church of Bolton-leSands to the archdeaconry of Richmond in 1246 was part of an arrangement advantageous to the house. (fn. 22) Of the thirteen advowsons granted by Roger of Poitou five only, Lancaster, Heysham, Poulton, Croston, and Eccleston, were now retained; but two of these churches, Lancaster and Poulton, were appropriated to their own uses.
The church of Lancaster had been from the first so appropriated, and the priory held it integre or pleno jure, that is, without obligation to have a perpetual vicar ordained in it with a fixed portion of its revenues, inasmuch as the monks and their chaplains 'served in the church and parish day and night and laboured perpetually in the cure of souls.' (fn. 23) Its chapels at Caton, Gressingham, and Stalmine were held in appropriation by grant confirmed by Pope Celestine III (1191-8). (fn. 24) Celestine also confirmed an appropriation of a moiety of the church of Poulton and of its chapel at Bispham. (fn. 25) The other moiety was secured in 1246 as part of the compensation awarded to them for their surrender of the advowson of Bolton-le-Sands to John le Romeyn (Romanus), archdeacon of Richmond. (fn. 26) It was not to fall in, however, until the death or cession of its rector, Alexander de Stanford, when a vicarage of 20 marks was to be appointed for the whole church. They bought out Stanford in 1250, (fn. 27) but for some reason the vicar's portion was not fixed until 1275. (fn. 28)
In the cases of Heysham, Croston, and Eccleston the monks had to remain content with the advowson and an annual pension. (fn. 29) Only a moiety of Eccleston church belonged to them until in the fifth decade of the thirteenth century Roger Gernet, lord of half the vill, and his under-tenant Warin de Walton resigned their rights in the advowson to Sées and the monks of Lancaster. (fn. 30)
The dependence of the priory upon the abbey of Sées may have been closer at first than it was afterwards. After the loss of Normandy the crown asserted a control over the appointment and removal of priors by Sées. In 1209 the abbot proffered 200 marks and two palfreys to be allowed on any vacancy to present two of his monks to the king, for him to choose and admit one, who was not to be recalled without his consent. (fn. 31) On the death of a prior in 1230 a local jury of inquest reported that the priors were appointed and removable by the abbot, subject to the assent of the king, and that during a vacancy the priory had always been taken into the hands of the crown, not of the archbishop of York or the archdeacon of Richmond. (fn. 32) But if the prior had no perpetuity the right of the crown to custody pending a new appointment could hardly be upheld, and the king ordered the sheriff to restore the priory to a representative of the abbot. (fn. 33) A looser conception of its relation to the Norman house must have before long prevailed, for in 1267 the king restored the temporalities to a prior, (fn. 34) and in 1290 John le Rey not only received the lands from Edmund, earl of Lancaster, but was canonically instituted and installed by the archdeacon of Richmond on the presentation of the abbot of Sées. (fn. 35) A prior so instituted could not usually be removed except upon grounds satisfactory to the diocesan. From the early years of the thirteenth century at latest the priory was conventual; (fn. 36) the prior and the five monks forming a society which could enter into legal engagements, though at that time deeds were mostly drawn and law proceedings conducted in the name of the abbot and convent of Sées. Their usual style was 'the Prior and monks of St. Mary of Lancaster,' but 'the Prior and Convent' occasionally occurs. (fn. 37) No convent seal, however, seems to have existed, the prior's seal being used. Sometimes the prior stated that he was acting both in his own name and as proctor for Sées. (fn. 38)
The income of the endowments was administered by the members of the priory subject to a fixed annual 'apport' or pension of 50 marks to the chief house. (fn. 39) This was rather less than half their revenue as assessed for the tithe. (fn. 40) The prior and monks were selected from the inmates of the parent monastery, and two priors of Lancaster became abbots of Sées. (fn. 41) The history of the priory is little more than a record of disputes and litigation, which were not infrequently carried up to the pope. Some of these arising out of its advowsons and appropriations have already been mentioned. Its right to the tithes of demesne lands in Lancashire under the grants of the founder and Count John of Mortain had to be defended against the rectors of Walton and Sefton at the end of the twelfth century, (fn. 42) and against those of Preston and St. Michael's-onWyre in the first quarter of the fourteenth century. (fn. 43)
The priory was often involved in disputes with other religious houses which had interests within its sphere. A claim was put forward by the leper hospital at Lancaster to be exempt from payment of tithes for their lands in that parish in virtue of a bull of Pope Celestine III; but in 1317 the prior obtained a decision that the papal privilege only covered land newly brought into cultivation, and established his rights to the offerings made in the hospital chapel. (fn. 44) A similar dispute with the abbot and convent of Furness in regard to the tithes of their grange of Beaumont near Lancaster had been settled a quarter of a century earlier. (fn. 45) There was much litigation, too, with Furness, to whom Stephen of Blois had transferred his fishery at Lancaster, as to the precise rights conferred upon the priory by its founder's grant of the third throw of St. Mary's seine. In 1314 their servants came to blows, the matter was brought before the royal justices, and next year an agreement was arrived at by which the priory took every third throw in St. Mary's Pot and every other throw elsewhere. (fn. 46)
The foundation of the Premonstratensian house at Cockersand just over the southern limit of the parish of Lancaster, and its acquisition of lands both in that parish and in Poulton, led to disputes with the priory over the tithes and other parochial rights. Papal delegates in 1216 arranged a compromise which gave two-thirds of such tithes to the monks of Lancaster and the remaining third to the canons of Cockersand. (fn. 47) Fresh quarrels were ended in 1256 by an agreement in which Cockersand undertook not to admit parishioners of the prior to burial or the sacraments without his consent, which however, he was not to refuse if leave was asked and dues paid. Parishioners serving in the Cockersand granges must not pay their offerings or tithes to the abbey, but the servants at the abbey itself were excepted from this prohibition. (fn. 48)
The gift of the lands of Staining, Hardhorn, and Newton in Poulton parish to the Cheshire abbey of Stanlaw produced similar complications, which were finally ended in 1298; the abbey, just removed to Whaliey, was awarded the great tithes on payment of eighteen marks a year to the priory. (fn. 49)
On one occasion at least the monks of the priory came into conflict with the town in and around which they held so much property. In 1318 the burgesses of Lancaster pulled down an inclosure which Prior Nigel had made in Newton, in which hamlet they claimed common of pasture. (fn. 50) But a jury found that though their cattle had pastured on the land in question they had only done so on sufferance on their way to the forest of Quernmore, where King John had granted common rights to the burgesses. (fn. 51)
Twelve years later a quarrel broke out between the priory and Sir Adam Banaster, who sought to exclude its servants and tithecollectors from his lands in the parish of Poulton. Prior Courait was forcibly carried off from Poulton and kept in durance at Thornton; his servants were beaten, wounded, and imprisoned. (fn. 52) Early in 1331, however, Sir Adam and the prior came to an understanding. (fn. 53)
During the French wars the house was taken into the hands of the crown with the other alien priories. These little groups of Frenchmen could not be permitted to send over considerable sums of money and perhaps information to the king's enemies. But at Lancaster as elsewhere the prior was often allowed to farm the priory from the crown. (fn. 54)
Under Edward III the prior of Lancaster paid 100 marks (£66 13s. 4d.) a year. (fn. 55) This was double the amount of the pension paid by the priory to Sées when the two countries were at peace. (fn. 56) In February, 1397, Richard II granted the custody of the house at the same rent to Cockersand Abbey, which seems to have had considerable difficulty in getting possession. (fn. 57) Henry IV, however, having his attention drawn to the disastrous effects upon this and other alien priories of the heavy rents exacted and the intrusion of external farmers, restored them in the first year of his reign to their priors; merely stipulating that so long as the war with France continued they should pay to the crown the pensions they were wont to render to their chief houses abroad in time of peace. (fn. 58) The king's financial embarrassments led in a few years to the reversal of this considerate policy (fn. 59) and Lancaster Priory was again farmed out at a rent of £100, being an increase of fifty per cent, on that paid before 1400. Henry V in granting its custody to Prior Louvel and Sir Richard Hoghton (21 October, 1413) put on another £10. (fn. 60) Next year Parliament gave the crown permanent possession of the alien priories, and Henry vested the rent from that of Lancaster in trustees as part of the endowment of the Bridgettine nunnery of Syon which he founded at Isleworth in that year. After the death of Prior Louvel, the farmer, the priory itself was to become the property of the nuns. (fn. 61) Louvel died before September, 1428, but Henry Bowet, archdeacon of Richmond, put in a claim to its revenues and tithes ratione vacationis. (fn. 62) It had been decided in the thirteenth century that the archdeacon had no such right. (fn. 63) Bowet, however, seems to have taken up the position that the gift of the priory to Syon amounted to a fresh appropriation of the churches of Lancaster and Poulton. Archbishop Kemp was appointed arbitrator and apparently decided in his favour, for the abbess and convent agreed to indemnify him and his successors by the heavy annual payment of £40 6s. 8d. (fn. 64) In 1430 the archdeacon ordained a perpetual vicarage in the church of Lancaster, (fn. 65) and in the following year the trustees appointed by Henry V conveyed the priory to Sion. (fn. 66) On the accession of Edward IV it was thought prudent to secure a regrant. (fn. 67)
The priory buildings had been assigned in 1430 to the use of the vicar of Lancaster, but the abbess and convent retained an honest chamber and stable as a lodging for their officers visiting Lancaster. (fn. 68) In 1462 they leased the whole priory, with the exception of the advowsons, for nine years to John Gardiner of Ellel, at a rent of £156 13s. 4d. (fn. 69) The advowson of Eccleston had perhaps never been granted to them, and at any rate was parted with before 1464 to the Stanleys. (fn. 70) Sir Edward Stanley in 1488 claimed the advowson of Heysham as lord of the manor in spite of a legal decision of 1479, and the verdict of a local jury was in his favour (fn. 71) but Syon appears in possession in 1527. (fn. 72) After the dissolution of the abbey in 1540 the bulk of the priory estate was sold by the crown in 1557 to Robert Dalton of Bispham for £1,667. (fn. 73)
The priory was dedicated to St. Mary. Its original endowment included, besides the churches and tithes already enumerated, the manors of Aldcliffe and Newton, (fn. 74) one third of the vill of Heysham, (fn. 75) and the whole vill of Poulton-le-Fylde. (fn. 76) The most considerable later addition was the gift by Thomas of Capernwray, escheator of the county of Lancaster about the middle of the thirteenth century, of all his land in Bolton and Gressingham. (fn. 77) Conveyances of numerous small parcels of land, chiefly in the parishes of Lancaster and Poulton, are recorded in the register of the priory.
Its temporalities were taxed in 1292 at £4, reduced after the Scottish raid to 30s. (fn. 78) In a document of 1367 its total assessment for the tithe is given as £80. (fn. 79) This must be taken as net income, which will agree pretty well with the amount of rent exacted by the crown during the French wars, £66 13s. 4d., rising by 1413 to £110. (fn. 80) The gross income in 1430, just before Syon obtained possession, amounted to £326 2s. 8d. (fn. 81) No complete estimate of the expenditure in money is supplied. On the dissolution of Syon Abbey 'the late priory of Lancaster' was valued among its possessions at £216 13s. 8d. (fn. 82)
Priors of Lancaster
John, (fn. 83) occurs c. 1141
Nicholas, (fn. 84) occurs between 1153 and 1192
William, (fn. 85) occurs between 1188 and 1192 and in 1204
John de Alench', (fn. 86) occurs between 1207 and 1227, died 1230 (?)
Geoffrey, (fn. 87) occurs 1241
Garner, (fn. 88) occurs 1250
William de Reio (Reo), (fn. 89) occurs 1253 and 1256
Ralph de Trun, (fn. 90) instituted 1266, occurs 1287
John 'le Ray,' (fn. 91) instituted 1290, occurs 1299
Fulcher, (fn. 92) occurs 1305 and 1309
Nigel, (fn. 93) occurs 1315 and 1323
[William de Bohun, (fn. 94) occurs 1327]
Ralph Courait, (fn. 95) occurs 1329 and 1334
Emery de Argenteles, (fn. 96) occurs 1337-42
John de Coudray (de Condreto), (fn. 97) occurs 1344-5
Peter Martin, (fn. 98) occurs 1352, res. 1366
William Rymbaut, (fn. 99) appointed c. 1366, died June or July, 1369
John Innocent, (fn. 100) admitted 23 September, 1369, occurs down to 1391, died before 6 September, 1396
John des Loges, (fn. 101) died 1399
Giles Louvel, (fn. 102) admitted 15 December, 1399; occurs down to 1414; died between 21 April, 1427, and 1428
The British Museum has a cast of the seal of a Prior William. (fn. 103) It is pointed oval; the Virgin seated on a throne, with its sides terminating in animals' heads, with crown; in her left hand the Child. In the field on each side a wavy sprig of foliage. In base under an arch, the prior half-length in prayer; to the left behind him a cinquefoil rose. The legend is imperfect.